Rockhounding

1998 abt Daddy working on rocks in Bonham2
Daddy at his faceting machine; at home in Bonham; abt 1998

Daddy was an avid rockhound. In the early 1960s, he and Mother joined the Oak Cliff Gem and Mineral Society in Dallas, and he began pursuing his interest in rocks. It was in that pursuit that he and Mother attended regular club meetings and took the family on rock-hunting trips all over the southwestern United States – a pastime they both enjoyed. I enjoyed it, too, but not to the degree that they did. They called me their little pebble puppy.

 

1965 Rock Club Christmas Party2
Fun times with the Oak Cliff Gem and Mineral Society; Daddy labeled this a Christmas party, but this is some strange-looking Christmas party; Daddy is standing far right wearing Mother’s mink stole; Mother is seated behind his left elbow; 1965

 

They hunted (among other things) topaz, quartz crystals, sapphires, agate, fossils, palmwood, and (on at least one occasion) Arkansas diamonds. In the Arkansas Ozarks, they found many quartz crystals (some of which he faceted into settings for necklaces, rings, earrings, and brooches). Some of their most prolific and prized finds were white jade from Wyoming, opal in a variety of colors from Idaho, and Montana sapphires (best known for having a deep blue color). He also bought and traded at gem shows across the southwest United States. One of his trade show gems was a rutilated topaz which had been misplaced in a bin of quartz crystals. Daddy picked it up, studied it, told the owner where he had found it, and asked if it had been mislabeled. After studying it for a minute, the owner said it was not quartz but rather rutilated topaz which had apparently been placed in the wrong bin. He let Daddy buy it for the lower price of the quartz. Daddy faceted it into an emerald cut and gave it to me. After I got married, I had it mounted into a 14 carat gold solitaire ring, which I still have and still wear. It is one of my many prized possessions that Daddy created. Sometime in the 1970s, I had someone in the field of gemstones tell me that this stone could not possibly be a topaz, so I took it to one of Daddy’s gemologist-friends, who tested it and said it was definitely topaz.

Mother found a diamond once, but she was not digging and sifting in the dirt. We were vacationing in New Mexico in the 1960s, and Mother was in a dirty old “filling station” sitting on a toilet seat layered with toilet paper. I can still picture this dingy old restroom with its grimy floor and walls, a small window too high to see out of, rusty pipes, chipped and scratched fixtures, and one tiny stall. Mother said something caught her eye against the wall in the far corner on the floor in the stall. Something sparkled in a sliver of sunlight coming through the small window. She just happened to be looking in just the right direction, at just the right time, in just the right light; and she reached down and picked up a small faceted stone. She thought it must be a rhinestone; but after close inspection, Daddy thought it might be a diamond. After we returned home, he took it to one of his lapidary friends for testing and confirmed it was a nearly flawless seven-eighths carat diamond. Later, one Christmas, Daddy surprised Mother with a ring, and in the center was this diamond; which was especially touching, because years earlier in Santa Fe before they began trailering, Mother said she lost the center diamond of her engagement ring. She and Daddy turned that hotel room upside down looking for it but never found it. Sadly, my sisters and I think the diamond she found came out of this ring, too, and was lost. If that isn’t so, we don’t know what happened to it.

Mother always accompanied the little girls to the public restrooms along the road, and she was always the last to leave. In the 1960s, “filling stations” were not as convenient or as easy to find on highways as they are today, and most of them were closed at night, which also meant the pumps were closed. Public restrooms in these “filling stations” were rarely, if ever, clean. They were usually accessed from outside of the service station, around the side or in the back. They were mostly old, small, dirty, in disrepair, and often had no toilet paper, hand soap, or paper towels. Often the entry door didn’t close or lock properly, so one of us stood outside and guarded the door. There was also the exquisite cloth hand towel roller dispenser often found on the wall in lieu of paper towels. The cloth towel rolled out for use by pulling on the cloth. As the towel rolled out, the used towel rolled back up into the dispenser. The towel came out looking pressed but usually not clean. The photo below came from an unknown source off of the Internet and is a surprisingly clean example. I never understood where the soiled part of the towel ended up. Did it come back out the front after being pressed by the roller? It’s a mystery to me.

towel dispenser

 

Daddy took his and Mother’s rock hunting excursions to another level by writing many articles about their most interesting rock-hunting adventures, which were published in Lapidary Journal . In some of his old files, I found a résumé he had written indicating that he authored 36 articles for Lapidary Journal, which were published over eleven years, from 1968 through 1978. It is a fact, however, that he wrote at least one article after 1978 in the June 1981 issue of Lapidary Journal. He must have written his résumé documenting 36 articles before 1981. The material for his first published article was inspired by a field trip he and Mother made with the Oak Cliff Gem and Mineral Society in Dallas, Texas, to Erdman’s Ranch. He wrote that it was exciting to be out with their trailer and a friendly group of nutty rock hounds. In his journal he wrote that there was no premeditated plan on his part to materialize a story, but he carried a loaded camera and a small notebook to record any important facts. Many years later he wrote that the events as they occurred during that first trip seemed small and insignificant, and it was not until he returned home and began laughing over the memories of the trip that it occurred to him to record the events with pictures and words before the details faded from memory. Even then, he said, he would not acknowledge that he was thinking about writing a story. He also wrote a couple of articles for Rockhound and Gems and Minerals magazines.

In all of my parents’ travels, I only know of one close call on the road with their trailer, which happened on Good Friday in April 1971. I was twenty-one years old and married. Our apartment in Oak Cliff did not have a washer and dryer, so I was at their house in Oak Cliff doing laundry when they returned home from a rock-hunting excursion to Big Bend National Park. They drove in the driveway without their 22-foot Monitor trailer, which they left with. Daddy made notes of this event and published an article about it in the December 1971 issue of Lapidary Journal. He wrote:

We were traveling north on a straight, good, paved road. We had just crossed over the top of the grade and were having an easy pull on a gentle downgrade that stretched straight away for miles in the distance. The sun was low and the clear blue sky was a straight line on the horizon. There was no wind. Our spirits were high as we rolled along at an even sixty miles an hour and discussed the upcoming plans for a pleasant evening.

Suddenly, without the slightest warning, a terrible push from behind like a shove in a crowd, surged us forward. The trailer was forcing us up ahead and with a twisting motion. I fought the steering wheel and the brakes for control. It was no use. A vehicle bore down on my left, much too close and too fast. I pulled hard to the right to avoid a collision. The car responded immediately by turning crossways on the road. The passing vehicle, a late model pickup truck with a camper cover and pulling an eighteen foot Nomad trailer, swerved to the left and blasted on ahead. Our trailer skidded completely sideways, lurched and dove sidelong into the gravel shoulder of the road, exploding in a giant cloud of dust which hung sickenly over the wreckage for minutes.

We spun helplessly completely around, once, perhaps twice, but free of the trailer. We ended up facing the trailer wreckage from the opposite shoulder of the road. We sat there stunned and in shock. “We are all right!! We did not turn over! We are okay!” Pat babbled and patted me. A man (the driver of the other vehicle) stepped up to my window and peered down at me. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Man! You sure wrecked me! You really did wreck me!” I answered.

The pain was complete….Our trip was suddenly over.

Mother and Daddy were returning from their first trip to Big Bend National Park and were about thirteen miles south of Fort Stockton. Daddy wrote in his personal journal that the driver of the pickup truck was pulling a trailer and was from Irving, Texas. He was going around 80 mph when he passed Daddy. With the help of their traveling companions, the Bowmers, Daddy and Mother spent hours hunting for and retrieving their collection of precious and semi-precious stones that they had carried with them and which were now scattered all over the rocky desert landscape. He cut, faceted, and/or polished most of these stones. Two miracles occurred that day: one, that Mother and Dad survived without injury, and another that they actually found most (maybe all) of their rock specimens. Daddy filed a lawsuit in Odessa, Texas, but the man was uninsured. Daddy expected the lawsuit would be unsuccessful. It was a $3,000 loss.

1971 April BigBendTrailerWreckage

I greeted them in the driveway when they returned home after this terrible mishap. They got out of the car and Mother gave me a big hug and started to cry. It was a frightening experience for them. About a year later, they bought a new Hi-Lo travel trailer and resumed their happy camping. Daddy nicknamed their new trailer Scooty. It collapsed to half its height using hydraulics, which made it lighter and less resistant to wind.

Daddy built a rock garden in the back yard of our house on Ovid in Oak Cliff using rocks that he and Mother (and we kids) found on rock hunting trips. Every time they moved after that, they moved the rocks, too. I still have some of them, and I think some might be scattered around with different family members who wanted them. Some we regrettably left behind or gave away to non-family over the years.

After my sisters and I grew up and left home, Mom and Dad merrily continued camping and rock-hunting into the mid- to late-1980s, until sadly they couldn’t drive any more. It was sad for my sisters and me to see them give up the hobby they loved so much which was such a big part of their lives. One day, I hope to blog Daddy’s personal rock-hunting journal.